RA.ONE.Director:Anubhav Sinha Players: Shahrukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Armaan Varma, Satish Shah, Dalip Tahil.Music: Vishal Shekhar.Theatrical release (EROS).Hindi, Eng. Sub-tit. Available in 2D and 3D versions.
The most thoroughly “modern” Indian superhero movies of late—think huge special effects and even bigger budgets—have been Rakesh Roshan’s Krrishfranchise and Shankar’s Robot. To complete a troika, now comes RA.One. For the gamer generation—for those not in the know, that would be those refuniks who spend hours and hours gaming online sometimes with anonymous identifies with players from around the globe—RA.One is a boon. For Diwali season 2011, RA.One pretty much attains it’s goal of getting repeat-viewing from the audience it is intended for—the teen and pre-teen (mostly male) audiences. While no milestone event, RA.One is wholesome and mostly fun.

The age old dilemma of what to do about a genie, er, RAM-generated, monster that refuses to return to it’s bottle, er, it’s other-dimensional habitat and then proceeds to wreak havoc is replete in mythology from every corner of the globe. Here, Khan CG-animates himself as Shekhar, a geeky, Tamil-speaking London game designer whose boss (Tahil), a game-boarding tycoon, has granted free rein for Shekhar to invent a new pseudo-reality computer game. Shekhar’s newest invention has him conjuring up a creepy other-worldly entity RA.One (Rampal). After RA.One loses an experimental round of online play with Shekhar’s teenage son Prateik (newcomer Varma), it crosses over into this world to seek vengeance for the online loss. To equalize the odds against the powerful online demon-escapee, Shekhar has invented G.One, RA.One’s alter-ego. When things get rough, G.One (Khan), steps up to help protect Shekhar wife Sonia (Kapoor) and their son.

Even though the plot is an intersection of Superman, Terminator and a host of genre standard-bearers, Khan is able to remain above the fray with help from technical wizardry, courtesy Hollywood special effects experts. Khan in his 40’s does not have the same vitality he exhibited as a mid-20’s guy during his chart-storming stint with Yashraj (Dilwale Dulania Le Jayenge, Darr). He still has a “chocolate” hero Indian wholesomeness that can be intermittently screen-friendly. At the same, like he is here, with an anatomically enhanced jump suit and somewhat narcissist body lingo, Khan can also come across as self-absorbed and not all that interesting. Also, Khan’s caricatures of a “typical South Indian” are downright cringe-worthy.

Acting kudos go to Arjun Rampal. His bald-headed, maniacal RA.One is a true-blue URL-era demon signifying an unrelenting menace. Sinha draws a brilliant parallel between RA.One, the Brit-incubated, interdimensional creep, and Raavan, the metaphysical and universal Indian symbol for evil. As plastic and CAD-designed Rampal’s RA.One is, in ironic fashion, he “humanizes” the story with the sheer force of the detachment he has to everything around him other than a one-track road rage to venge one wrong turn in a silly video game.

First the Indian rap trio RDB landed rap demigod Snoop Dogg for a kinda sorta duet with Akshay Kumar in Singh is Kinng (2008). Then A.R. Rahman got a “guest” vocal from Kyle Minogue in Blue (2009). Now it’s Khan’s turn, and he zooms in on Senegalese-American pop singer Akon for a couple of catchy, dance-friendly, American-sounding tunes. In a gutsy move, Akon croons the Afro-beat dance-floor gig Chammak Challo in a Hindi-English amalgamation that is instantly infatuating and yet strangely detaching—like many an R&B numbers before it, the lyrics have to be spelled out to grasp the song’s nuance.

The single-biggest moment in this Shahrukh Khan vehicle, however, is—get ready—Rajnikant, the megastar that has ruled over southern India for so many decades. In a brief ever-so-captivating reprisal of his onscreen alter-ego from Robot, Rajnikant—even at 61—has the capacity to send his core audience—younger males—into a frenzy of cheers and whistles. In what is billed as Rajnikant’s screen return after a recent illness, Rajni, as his legions of fans affectionately call him, is truly spellbinding.

Like a broad picture book painted in psychedelic neon—RA.One’s drawing board is as simple as a thirteen-year old can understand, in a good way. Judging by early box office returns, and released in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and German-dubbed versions, Khan and company may end up jumping around this dimension all the way to the bank.


Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.